Some of you lovely Outliners may notice that art writers have a tendency to overuse the term ‘eclectic’. This is because quite a few shows bring together various styles and techniques, in an attempt to juxtapose the wider trends of artistic endeavour. However, I do not think I have seen something that typifies this term to such an extent than what is currently installed in the Shoe Factory Social Club.
What you classy, beautiful people have the opportunity to discover are fifty-five artists - literally fifty-five – all housed over two floors of stunning industrial architecture. This is UNA Gallery, an artist-led collective of emerging talent, designed to create a productive, intellectually stimulating milieu. If there is one thing that they have managed to achieve in this space, it is definitely that, as works clash and complement in equal measure: from floral expletives to suspended stonework. Every inch of the ex-factory is housed with little gems that may or may not be to your tastes but, ultimately, something will be present that appeals to your particular sensibilities.
Even if this is few and far between, another engaging factor in place is many of the artists' conscious utilisation of the space itself. The building – borderline derelict, stripped down to cracked concrete and rusted girders – becomes part of the art in many cases, framing projections and informing inclusion. One of the stand-out examples of this is a piece that dominates a whole corner of the top floor; Jade Anderson’s brutalist posters, housing evocative phrases hung from the roof. This artist was one of the first to acquire a residency at this location and now, a year later, she returns - showing an intimate understanding of both aesthetic and atmosphere. I stood staring for a few minutes, as the red of the surrounding metalwork blended in with the same hue of the piece, blurring the line between art and architecture. Luckily, I was snapped back to reality by the cooing of pigeons who had nested in the rafters, staring down at me as if I had meandered aimlessly in to their living room.
Honestly, I had to smile – only in Norwich would something like this exist.
Well, at the very least, only in Norwich would an artist consider bird excrement as mere collateral damage.
It is hard to get across just how much there is here. Jake Francis had installed a memorial piece that spells out ‘PRAT’. Lisa Almond is showing impressionist landscapes that somehow manage to be both murky and godlike. Becky Showell has created a series of tentacle-like pink blobs, penetrating the orifices of an antique dolls house. Beth Stilgee has made bright discs of abstract colour, curdled and calamitous, with visual language that could either represent a far-away galaxy or that feeling when you eat a sour sweet. Ruth Stanley’s pots give Grayson Perry a bit of competition, with defined yet amalgamated colouring and quirky shape. Rebecca Goddard (who I had listed as one of my favourite pieces of the NUA Degree Show) is back, this time reframing her piece – jarring the globular, pseudo-natural forms of pink fabric against the harsh grey of exposed concrete.
This is the thing, really. I’m just listing the pieces that stuck in my memory – and there is so much that stands out.
Yet, I have not spoken about the glimpse of unhinged genius that resides within every nook and cranny.
There is something quite special going on, in an area just outside of your peripheral.
At first, I didn’t notice anything – that was, up until the point that I spotted a tiny figurine putting out freshly cleaned laundry, suspended just below eye-level. My eyebrows raised as I tilted my head, transfixed for a few seconds by the confusing injection of reality unto an environment as fabricated as an art exhibition. As I continued to saunter, I began to notice more and more of these tiny people, doing odd jobs around the space. The normality of many of their actions jarred against an often-absurdist comedic tone, exemplified by a piece entitled Spit Roast – in which plastic people had been impaled by a stick, suspended above a clothes iron. Before long, I was hunting for these little glimpses of childlike joy, checking even the most obscure crevices.
It was worryingly fun, made more so when considering that people keep telling me to act like an adult.
These pieces did absolutely nothing for my street cred – and I am perfectly ok with that.
However, there is a serious point to be made here, as there are two objective truths in contemporary art; horses are really hard to draw and proper interactivity is often impossible. It is the latter truth that this artist manages to completely circumvent, as I had found myself at the behest of the piece without any cognitive awareness of its control. Many curators or creatives fall back on printing instructions for an audience, to guarantee that they engage with the art in the way that is desired. Michael Battams – who I am absolutely in love with – does not need this inclusion, as the art engrosses you in a manner this is genuine and human, whether you are a child-at-heart (as we all are) or literally twelve. In this instance, there is not only an understanding of the exhibition environment but a much deeper comprehension of the human psyche.
The art does not make you engage, you do it anyway.
Personal adoration aside, this event is definitely a strong showing, from an ever-expanding group of hopeful creatives. I cannot recommend a cheeky peek enough, as there are many interesting artworks that I have had to omit for the sake of brevity. Once again, the artistic community of our fine land come out swinging, showing Hull that their City of Culture title is a load of old tosh.
I would recommend this show to everyone, including families, as there isn’t anything too graphic or hoity-toity. Send the kids off to hunt even tinier people while you appreciate the finer things in life - such as how our industrial heritage is not lost, it has merely evolved in to a place for reflection and thought.
Who knows, give it 100 years and artists may be exhibiting in empty call centres, with tiny plastic people answering the phones.
UNA Gallery’s Light and Space is on at the Shoe Factory Social Club, St Mary’s Plain, just off Duke Street
The show is open from now until 27st August, 11am-5pm daily
Visit unagallery.co.uk for more information